Search is one of the only marketing mediums in which the consumer is actively seeking out a solution (e.g. a product or an answer). Because of this, marketers have a unique opportunity to see what customers are searching for and what is popular based on search terms. SEM (that is, paid search) updates in real time and allows for more customization than in SEO, so it is the best way to understand what customers want. The relationship between searchers and search results can yield a lot of information about products, search terms, and marketing campaigns. The smart SEM marketer will use this information as a testing tool, and here are three ways you can too.

1. Determine the Most Effective Product Names

Using SEM as a variation of A/B testing, you can show customers different names in your SEM ads and then use search data to see which of the names sparked the most customer interest. SEM is cheaper than using focus groups and more dynamic than using social media, plus SEM data can show you what search terms are most popular with searchers and which of these terms customers are most likely to click.

If, for example, you sell mobile phones, you may want to know what type of phrasing is most interesting to customers. You can run one SEM ad that advertises “mobile phones,” another that features the phrase “smartphones,” and a third that mentions “cell phones”. Using these variations in your search ads, you can see which terms cultivate the most customer interest, i.e. click-throughs, and searches. You might also consider the cost-per-click in relation to the popularity of some terms over others.

2. Keep Track of Trends

You can use search to keep track of real-time trends and monitor whether your product is still popular in the public eye, where it is most popular, and when it suffers dips or achieves spikes in popularity. You can also compare search terms and sort by location, subject, and time period. There are free programs for this (provided by top search engines), but these programs provide limited data.

If you want more in-depth information about search terms, you should invest in software that can show you what these searches mean. In order to best understand what your search terms are doing, you need to see how many searchers click on your ad, what they do on landing pages, how long they stay, and if they make any purchases. Look at trends in context, so you can understand spikes, dips, or flat lines in search frequency. Product releases, ad campaigns, and events can influence search frequency.

3. Try Out New Business Models

If you’re looking to try out a new offer, business model, or landing page, you’ll find that it’s difficult to drive your current customers towards something new. Why mess with what works, for those customers? One way to test out your new business model is to use SEM to drive traffic to it. When using a new business model, you might consider using an off-brand association to avoid confusing current customers. Using SEM and analytics tools, you can see how well your new business model compares to your old one.

SEM is a dynamic and data-rich marketing platform that also works great as a testing tool. The ability to immediately have an effect on customers is unprecedented in either marketing or testing formats. Use SEM to test, and you’ll be able to simultaneously build up your brand and test your products, campaigns, and marketing tactics.